For Andrew Levitas, there isn’t much of a difference between metal and moviemaking. What matters to 36-year-old Levitas—a noted artist and one-time soap opera star whose first filmmaking endeavor, Lullaby, debuts this month—is that he’s telling a story.
“My approach to art is that it’s not so much about the medium—it’s about the idea and finding something that’s important to you, that you care about and that you want to make,” he says, leaning across the table of a Soho bistro. “The ideas that are in this film weren’t appropriate for painting, sculpture or poetry. It felt like I could touch more people if I were to just sit down and write this screenplay.”
What Levitas wrote out is touching indeed. Lullaby tells the story of the Lowensteins, an estranged family who are brought back together as their patriarch (a warm Richard Jenkins) nears death in a Manhattan hospital. Despite their differences, black-sheep son Jonathan (Garett Hedlund), overachieving daughter Karen (Jessica Brown Findlay) and distraught mother Rachel (Anne Archer) are thrown together for a rocky, emotional few days. The addition of Jonathan’s one-who-got-away (a sweet Amy Adams in a surprising supporting role) makes things all the more difficult for Hedlund’s brooding character.
It’s a situation that Levitas says can he relate to, but he rejects the notion that a first film is always autobiographical.
“As you can tell, I am a 6-foot-4, super handsome guy from Mississippi,” he jokes, referring to his leading man, the rather tall and dreamy Hedlund. A bit more seriously, he adds: “You know, death is something that I have dealt with in my life—so is reconnection to the family and reclaiming joy, life, and power from illness. But once you start writing these things down, they take on a life of their own.”
That situation could frighten other first-time directors, but Levitas says he always planned to helm the film—and a little uncertainty couldn’t deter him.
“I wrote this movie to direct it, and the idea of compartmentalizing those two jobs or separating them is not something that makes sense to me,” he says. “I don’t identify as a writer or even as a director, for that matter. I identify as an artist. Not directing the film would almost be the equivalent of sketching out a sculpture, engineering it and then giving it to someone else to make. For me, the idea is to do all of the steps; the enjoyable part of the process is the act of making.”
And he did quite a job. Lullaby manages to tackle the hardship of being part of a family—albeit a particularly difficult one—in a time of crisis while never losing site of the individual characters, the way they interact or their humor. The movie’s sad, of course, but it’s also intricate, funny and captivating. Despite the heavy nature of the subject matter, what comes across is that life keeps moving.
Levitas credits the success of the film to the skill of the group he worked with.
“For me, art is created in a dark room by myself, so I recognize every brush stroke, every curve of a sculpture, every photograph and every etching,” he says. “But in this instance, collaborating with such formidable artists both in front of and behind the camera, I was able to make something that is effectively better than me alone. We all lifted each other up, and I think that’s why you have what I hope to be a great film.”
Working as part of a group seems to appeal to Levitas, enough so that he’s already planning his second—and third—film. He’s currently working on two screenplays, but he isn’t interested in rushing the process.
“I think that these things have to happen at their own pace,” he says. “Whatever I do, it will be something that I’m passionate about because it will take a lot of time, and I think as an artist I have a responsibility to make things that I care about. Otherwise, it’s sort of bullshit and you’re doing it to make money or for some other reason.”
He pauses to collect his thoughts before summing up what he means.
“I think that when you care about your art form, your work is just better.”